No charger in the box of your new smartphone?  Here's how to choose the right one.

No charger in the box of your new smartphone? Here’s how to choose the right one.

If you have bought a new smartphone in recent years, you have surely noticed that something is missing: a charger.

In 2020, Apple stopped including its ubiquitous white charging pad in iPhone cases. Samsung scoffed at the move, and then a few months later the South Korean company also stopped supplying chargers.

Manufacturers like Apple and Samsung claim this reduces e-waste, since most people already have a bunch of chargers. But you and I know the decision is really a way to cut expenses. Additionally, device manufacturers can make a small change by selling chargers as accessories.

Now, you may indeed own a charger or two that works with a new phone, but if you’ve had it for a long time, Old Faithful is going to take a while to power the big batteries of new phones. Modern batteries can be charged faster – in some cases, a lot faster – but you’ll need a beefier loader that can handle it.

But choosing one isn’t as easy as it used to be. Different phones charge at different speeds, requiring chargers with certain specifications. And some phones use different charging standards in order to charge the batteries in the fastest or most efficient way.

This is more of a problem in the Android world, where there are many brands with different requirements. With Apple’s iPhones, matching a charger to the device is a little easier, even if you don’t buy Apple-branded chargers.

First, a few basics to keep in mind (and here I’m focusing on wired charging, not wireless):

Powerful. Load power is expressed in watts. The original Apple USB charger for iPhone charges at 5 watts. Today’s modern loaders produce much more. For example, the last charger Apple included with its smartphones was an 18-watt charger that came with the iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max models. And the recently released OnePlus 10t comes with a 160 watt charger that delivers 125 watts to the phone. The 10t’s battery can go from zero to 100% in less than 20 minutes with the included charger (which I can confirm is real – I’ll have a review soon!).

Smartphone manufacturers usually display the charging power on their specification pages. For example, Samsung claims its Galaxy S22 Ultra supports up to 45 watts of charging, while the standard S22 supports 25 watts.

Connections. Almost all modern chargers now come with a USB-C connection – the smaller balanced port that supports higher power and faster charging than the larger old-school USB-A port. On Android devices, you’ll need a cable with USB-C plugs on both ends that can handle charger power (see my May USB-C column for more details. iPhones Still use Apple’s proprietary Lightning port, but a USB-C to Lightning cable comes in the box. The company is expected to switch to a USB-C iPhone connection next year.

Standards. You should be able to connect any quality charger to any smartphone using the correct cable and charge the battery. But for best results, the charger must support the standard handled by the phone. For example, many newer phones support Power Delivery 3.0, as well as a protocol called PPS. Again, check your phone’s specs and shop accordingly.

Note that charging a smartphone, laptop or tablet too quickly can prematurely drain its battery. Most brand name electronics have the ability to regulate the rate at which they are charged, allowing for fast charging at first, then slowing down as the battery approaches 100%.

A big warning about choosing a charger: don’t go cheap! Buying a very cheap no-name charger could be a recipe for disaster, as a faulty or poorly made charger can damage a device’s electronics. Stick with brands like Belkin, Anker, RAVPower, Ugreen, Apple, Samsung, Spigen, Aukey and others.

One of the most exciting new developments in charging is the use of a material called gallium nitride, or GaN. Chargers that use GaN are smaller, more efficient, and run cooler than traditional chargers built around silicon. At the moment, they cost a little more, but their advantages are worth it. And prices are falling rapidly.

Looking to carry fewer charging bricks and cubes in my travel bag, I recently purchased the Anker 737 GaNPrime Charger from Anker. It has a total power of 120 watts divided between 2 USB-C ports and a USB-A port.

It’s much smaller than the charging brick that came with my 2021 14-inch MacBook Pro, but it can charge this laptop, my iPad Air 4, and my iPhone 14 Pro Max at the same time. It has a list price of $95, but is often discounted on amazon.com. (The 65-watt version, the Anker 735, costs $60.)

The 737 is rather small – about 3.2 inches long by 1.7 inches high by 1.5 inches wide. But it feels dense, at 6.6 ounces. In fact, its weight can take it out of some wall outlets when cables are connected, so it comes with a silicone stabilizer that mounts to its base. It charges my MacBook Pro quickly, significantly faster than the 67 watt charger that came with it. It also stays much cooler.

The 737, like most multi-port chargers, intelligently distributes power based on the different devices plugged in at the time. Both USB-C ports are capable of outputting 100 watts individually, according to Anker. If the devices are plugged into both, their total power will be 120 watts. And the single USB-A port maxes out at 22.5 watts.

Wanting more information on GaN chargers, I spoke to Yuji Zhao, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Rice University. His WIDE lab at Rice specializes in studying materials such as GaN for use in electronics. Like silicon, it is used as a semiconductor material.

“(GaN) is very efficient, with very low current loss,” Zhao said, referring to converter chargers that turn AC input into DC output. “The strength of the material is very low.”

Electrons also move more easily inside GaN, making chargers able to reach faster speeds even though they are smaller. It also helps them run cooler.

Researchers such as Zhao are exploring other uses for semiconductors made from this material. His group is working with NASA and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on GaN processors that could power spacecraft exploring extremely hot places, such as Mercury, where its proximity to the sun results in temperatures of 500 degrees Celsius.

More down to earth, research is being carried out on the use of GaN to recharge the batteries of electric cars more quickly.

“You might be able to recharge your Tesla in as little as five minutes, which is about the time it takes to put gas in your car,” Zhao said.

Expect to learn a lot more about GaN in the near future.

dsilverman@outlook.com
twitter.com/dsilverman


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